Madan Puri has been on my mind for the past few days. Why, you may ask. There is no why to it. He just is. Why is anything or anyone on one’s mind?
I was looking for a way to peg Madan Puri’s floating memory to something even remotely relevant now. To my surprise, I found two fairly persuasive excuses to remember him now. One is the 40th year of a 1974 movie called ‘Chor Machaye Shor’ (Thief Raises Ruckus), which is of course as bogus an excuse as one could find. Quite fortuitously though, once you accept this anniversary as an occasion to remember the Hindi cinema actor who did more than 200 movies in a career spanning 45 years there is something immediately relevant to find in the movie’s plot. This particular scene above works in the context of the ongoing parliamentary election in India, which concludes tomorrow.
However, I remember this film for only one reason. Danny Denzongpa, one of the four protagonists of the film, has a line that he prefaces most of his conversations with. The line says, “Uski maa ko apni ma kahun.” You have to be familiar with the cultural underbelly of India to get the full measure of this line since it is a sort of double-edged sword. The terms “Uski maa ko” or “Uski maa ki” (His mother’s) are typically followed by something vulgar and profane. Since Danny plays a criminal called Raju Ustad, the automatic presumption is that he is about curse when he starts a sentence with “Uski maa ko”. Instead, he elevates it to a rather ennobling sentiment which works perfectly well on Mother’s Day today. (It is brilliant how I found one more connection to today). What Danny is saying is, “I call your mother, my mother.” But I digress. The post is about Madan Puri.
Madan Puri was one of those consummate actors of Hindi cinema who consistently lent whatever scene he did a high watchability quotient. Slotted in a certain type of villainy, which was part comic but mostly crassly devious, throughout his career Puri still managed to infuse credibility. He had a fairly good comic timing and could deadpan rather well. His arrival on screen in the movies throughout the 1950s, 60s and 70s generally meant the plot was about to take a rough turn. Puri did not play through and through vicious characters much but ones which had some deeply buried amiability. There was a competent actor in him who was not tapped that often but he still managed to flesh out his characters with conviction.
In the particular scene above Puri played Seth Jamunadas who is bent on winning a local election by any means, including ensuring that civic amenities of a constituency named Shantinagar such as water, road and hospitals are all working well. He tells his three lackeys that money is no object since he is backed by a moneybag. When one of the lackeys suggests keeping some musclemen handy in case voters have to be coerced, Puri says in a matter of fact tone, “Don’t worry about it. I will reach there before the election. And I have made arrangements for musclemen.”
I suppose I have established enough core relevance to remember Puri randomly as well as given the post secondary relevance by bringing in that cheap line mouthed by Danny’s character. It is more than I had expected to accomplish.